Macau the best bet for HK punters

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 July, 2011, 12:00am


Hong Kong people are gambling more money in Macau casinos than they spend with the Jockey Club at home for the first time, according to newly released figures.

A detailed study by the Jockey Club has found that people from Hong Kong - who make up the second-biggest pool of Macau casino patrons after mainlanders - spent HK$22 billion in the world's richest gaming destination in 2009, compared with the gross revenue of HK$21.8 billion received by the club between July 2009 and June last year.

That's about HK$3,000 for every man, woman and child in the city.

'Hong Kong people are losing more money to the casinos in Macau than in Hong Kong,' said Hong Kong Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges. He said the club was not facing an immediate threat, but 'severe competition' from Macau - with its lucrative combination of high-rollers brought in by junket operators who offer big lines of credit to gamblers, and mass market operations - was taking its toll.

'It would be wrong to say that we cry foul and that we are in a crisis. This is a matter of competitiveness over a period of time,' he said.

He added that the club's ongoing charity donations - which reached a record-high HK$1.62 billion last year - would not be possible without a sustainable betting operation.

The estimate of money lost by Hongkongers in Macau was based on exit interviews at gambling venues, casinos' annual reports, and investment bank reports on casinos. He said all three sources came up with similar figures. The study found the amount wagered by Hong Kong people in the former Portuguese enclave's casinos surged from HK$9 billion in 2005 to HK$22 billion in 2009.

Meanwhile, the Jockey Club's gross revenue saw slower growth over the same period, rising by 13 per cent from HK$19.3 billion in 2005-06.

Engelbrecht-Bresges said there was little it could do to reverse the trend as it is constrained by tax rules and regulations. It pays a 50 to 75 per cent tax on football betting and horse racing. Macau's 33 casinos pay 35 per cent of their gross receipts as direct tax to the government. The club takes bets on horse racing, football and lotteries and has no plans to expand.

A Home Affairs Bureau spokeswoman said its policy was to restrict gambling to a limited number of authorised outlets, and not to encourage gambling: 'We are open to any views that may enhance the overall competitiveness of the Jockey Club for ensuring its effectiveness in satisfying local gambling demand without compromising our ... policy.' Wong Sing-chi, a Democrat on Legco's home affairs panel, said the club should not see Macau as a rival, as the industry there could be complicated by money laundering: 'The club is an NGO. But it seems to me they see themselves as running a gambling empire.' Hong Kong Gambling Watch spokesman Choi Chi-sum said the government should not do anything to encourage betting.